Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day Movie Sin Nombre

You don't see a lot of cute girls riding on top of trains across Mexico. There's a reason for that. In the film Sin Nombre (Nameless), a Honduran teen makes this long dangerous journey from Central America to the United States. That's not the worst. Like many Latinas who have several saintly names but no father, she falls in love with the first guy who shows her some kindness. Turns out to be a gang assassin with a price on his head. Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal have produced a travel movie with a potent Father's Day message.

I know a little about this subject. The railroad featured in the film passes two blocks from my house. I cross the tracks everyday. Filthy ragged migrants knock on my gate for water and tortillas a couple times a week. We often chat. They make this perilous journey in part because the U.S. economy offers money. They do it in part because Central America offers little economic opportunity. Yet, they do it partly because that's the way politicians want it.

Liberals often charge that conservatives don't care about these migrants. They accuse them of holding the letter of the law above compassion. There's truth to this. Many cultures function without the law and order obsession of gringos. The Declaration of Independence and The Bible both proclaim that moral laws supercede the laws of men. However, illegal migration also wrecks havoc on families, which liberals getting too much money from unions to support legal immigration seldom discuss.

Illegal migrants usually leave women and children behind. Sometimes the trip is just a handy excuse for men who prefer to move along or women who wish they would. As professor at a university in Mesoamerica, I deal with this reality constantly. My mostly-fatherless students have the security that often comes from a loving mother during the first decade of life. They're less neurotic than what locals call "unmothered gringos."

However, most of them lack the character traits which typically result from firm father love during the teen years. Boys are undisciplined and unmotivated to a criminal extent. Girls are so desperate for male attention that I can't politely describe the kind of guys they fall for or the tender ages at which they do so. All of this has a cute side, until you see their fatherless kids malnourished, unsupervised and repeating the vicious cycle. I'm well aware that my observation on the effects of fatherlessness won't be endorsed by politicians. They cater to us adults, who don't like hearing we've made mistakes, rather than children who can't vote.

I recently had a conversation with bestselling-Latina-author Sandra Cisneros. We both got misty-eyed about the rights of impoverished brownies. Still, when I asked her what solution her activism offers for the family devastation wrought South of the border by illegal migration, the caring bubbly woman fell silent. She finally verbalized a warm-but-trite exhortation that I should go ask my muse to answer my heart. I did. My muse, heart and balls say that liberals pretend to care about migrants better than conservatives do, but only if they don't have to admit how dysfunctional illegal migration actually is. Politicians who love legal codes or labor unions more than kids truly suck.

I remember a high school classmate who complained that Vietnamese refugees were stealing his dad's job. Meanwhile, my father was paying rent on cockroach-infested apartments for some flea-bitten "boat people" he was sponsoring. Years later, after they'd cleaned-up and gotten all their children into med schools or tech companies, they invited us to dinner at their impressive estate. I stood speechless before a candlelit prayer shrine, which they'd built into their home, beneath a picture of my dad. I don't know if they stole his job, but they damn sure got my heart.

Whatever the best immigration solution is, thousands of miles between fathers and children it aint. Open legal immigration made America great in the past and makes countries great today. Eager workers come with their dreams, energy, families, and loyalty to their new home. An underground workforce can be made more humane, but it can never be great as long as it is built on the tears of children separated from their daddies.


  1. Wow I like the plot of this movie...Interesting to say the least. Good review Lyn.

  2. Thanks Zaira. If you'd like to know more about this deadly journey and the desperate folks who make it, check out the documentary The Beast by Mexican journalist Pedro Ultreras. Typical of media hypersensitivity/insensitivity, CNN was traumatized for months about Arizona's document checking, but when over 70 migrants were tortured, decapitated, and buried together in Taumalipas Mexico, the only response they could muster was "Where the hell is Taumalipas?"

  3. Nice piece. Thank you for sharing your experience and insight into the problems of immigration. I am curious about what legal immigration would actually look like. It does concern me...and today's world is nothing like it was back in the open-immigration days you talked about. I don't think it would work now.

  4. Anonymous,
    You are quite right that accepting my philosophical defense of open immigration leaves myriad problems with exactly how open and how exactly do we do it. One barrier to free flowing immigration is terrorism, which does require some screening. This is not an entirely new problem as there were more than a few Irish bombers and Vietnamese gangsters who were part of the immigration tides that influenced my life. Another big problem is that the nations most immigrants desire have committed to government benefit programs that they cannot extend much without bankruptcy. Unless one is willing to reduce these entitlements, the only real option is to kick out one native born who doesn't want employment for each inbound who has a job offer. This sounds comical and cruel, but it would be closer to liberty and justice for all instead of privilege for the few, plus being deported to Bolivia or Bangladesh might be a transformational experience for whining slackers lacking gratitude and packing attitude. Whatever solution we come up with to give starving people fairer access to global jobs would probably be better than politicians arguing over whether illegal immigrants deserve execution or sainthood. Those that ride the train by my house deserve neither.